By ESTHER NURIA
GOVERNMENT has given its blessing for the four repatriation flights to Asia to go ahead starting early next week.
This was approved by Cabinet during its deliberation yesterday, a statement issued by the Office Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) confirmed last night.
“Cabinet at its meeting today (Thursday 27th August 2020) has approved the repatriation flights to Guangzhou in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and to Manila in the Philippines,” the statement said.
The first trip scheduled to take place next week on Tuesday, 1st September is for China.
This will be followed by three other flights to Manila in September and October to bring back close to 400 local students from the Philippines.
“The flight to Guangzhou will be on 1 September 2020, whilst the first two flights to Manila are scheduled for 15th and 18th September 2020 respectively, with the date of the 3rd flight to be confirmed,” the statement said.
The statement explained the decision was made after careful consideration, which also considered the risk assessment of intending travelers, the COVID-19 status in both countries and the requirement for all travelers to do pre-departure COVID-19 testing which must be negative before they can be allowed to travel.
“PRC is currently classified as a category 3 country. This means they experience less than 50 new cases of COVID-19 per day. All travelers from category 3 countries, must have 2 negative tests in the 14 days prior to travel with the 2nd test 2-3 days prior to departure,” it said.
The statement said passengers could only board the plane if both tests are negative.
“On arrival in the country all travelers from category 3 countries will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period and they will have two further tests which must both be negative before they can be released,” it said.
The OPMC statement further explained as for the Philippines, it is a category 4 country.
This means the country has more than 50 new cases every day (In fact daily new cases in Philippines averages between 3,000 – 4,500), the statement added.
“All travelers from category 4 countries must have three Covid-19 tests in the 21 days before the flight with the 3rd test to be taken 2-3 days prior to the flight.
“They will only be allowed to board the plane if all three tests are negative for COVID-19. On arrival in the country, all travelers from category 4 countries will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period and they will have a further 3 tests which must be all negative before they can be released.”
The statement added for both categories, doctors can keep a person longer than the 14 days and may do additional tests if so required. The maximum quarantine period is 21 days.
“All intending passengers from both countries will be subjected to confirmation from the Ministry of Health & Medical Services that all pre-departure health assessment and pre-departure testing requirements are completed, and results sent to our health authority before they can travel. All incoming passengers must be individually approved,” the statement said.
“All passengers regardless of their nationality or status will and must undergo strict testing and quarantine protocols prior to, during, and after arrival.
“According to our testing protocols, all passengers must undergo two tests before boarding the flight from category 3 countries and 3 tests before for category 4 countries. Anyone who is tested positive will not board the flight,” it stated.
The OPMC statement added the flight to China will be undertaken for purposes of repatriating Solomon Island citizens.
“It will also bring in the new PRC Ambassador to Solomon Islands and some members of the Embassy staff, the PG2023 technical team and workers of major Chinese companies working in major infrastructure projects in the country comprising a total of 88 passengers,” the statement said.
With regards to the Philippines, the statement said about 403 students and dependents are to be repatriated through three charter flights.
“All students must do three COVID-19 tests each prior to traveling.”
It said the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs and Health are coordinating the testing arrangements with assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The statement highlighted that the government has acknowledged that these challenging and unprecedented times that require Cabinet to make tough decisions for the betterment of this country.
“The decision to repatriate our citizens from China was taken after a thorough analysis of risks and benefits. Cabinet is convinced that if our testing protocol is followed with pre-departure testing and post-arrival quarantine and testing, we will prevent the introducing Covid-19 into the country.
“The Cabinet believes that we can continue to conduct important business in the country and still keep COVID-19 out of our beloved country,” it said.
The statement clarified that the same treatment is given to all our bilateral and multilateral partners who are needed in the country to ensure national projects are progressing.
“China does not get preferential treatment as people might like to think,” the statement said.
The statement added other flights to repatriate citizens currently stranded in New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, USA, and other European countries, as well as to bring in key foreign personnel for our development partner missions that help finance major development projects in the country are also in the planning process.
The same arrangement will be done for engineers for TINA Hydro project or the Honiara international airport and the Kukum highway projects.
“There are no exceptions to our pre-departure requirements as well as our post-arrival quarantine and testing protocols,” the statement clarified.
The controversial flight to China was previously scheduled for this weekend. However, it was delayed after the government decided to review it.
The paper understood more than 50 SI nationals are still stuck in China, most of whom remained stranded after travel restrictions were imposed early this year.
They have businesses in the country. As a result of the travel restriction, they could not return forcing their businesses to remain closed until now.
The public, churches, non-government organizations and the opposition office have been critical of the trip when it was first announced.
The government has earlier explained the need to get technical people to help with the design and construction of the Games facilities.
Allowing construction to commence will also offer support to the country by pumping of much-needed funds into the economy as well as provide jobs for locals, the government said.
Meanwhile, the arrival of the new Chinese Ambassador to the Solomon Islands will see the grand opening of the Chinese Embassy office in Honiara on Monday, 21st September.
The opening ceremony will coincide with two events, one year anniversary since both countries establish diplomatic ties and the Chinese day celebration.